Recover Formatted Hard Drive on Mac in 5 Steps with Ease

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formatted hard drive recovery mac

Can I recover data from a fully formatted drive on Mac OS X?

Yes, you can recover any formatted hard drive on Mac. In fact, there are several ways how you can approach the task. One of the best ways to recover a formatted hard drive on Mac is to use a data recovery software application and let it handle the dirty work while you kick back and wait for your files to reappear.

How to Recover Data from Formatted Hard Drive on Mac

Step 1: Learn the Basics

While you don’t have to understand the ins and outs of the hard drive formatting process, knowing what has happened to your hard drive can help you successfully recover data from it.

When most people hear the term hard drive formatting, they immediately think of a process experts call high-level formatting. This type of formatting is actually the last of three different processes that make a hard drive usable by the operating system and applications, and its purpose is to create a file system within a disk partition.

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The disk partition is created prior to high-level formatting, during a process called partitioning, which divides the hard drive into one or more regions, called partitions, indicating where each partition starts and where it ends. The information about individual partitions is stored in a special region on the hard drive, called the partition table.

The way a hard drive is partitioned is completely in the hands of the user, but the same can’t be said about the first formatting process, called low-level formatting, because it usually happens in the factory. During low-level formatting, the surface of the hard drive is marked to indicate the start of recording blocks.

The good news is that the three formatting processes leave most­—if not all—data on the hard drive intact, making complete data recovery easily possible.

Step 2: Download & Install Disk Drill for Mac

If you want to recover a formatted hard drive on Mac, then you need to begin the recovery process in a timely manner and avoid using the hard drive until your data are recovered. Any write operation that happens on the formatted hard drive could result in your data becoming overwritten, and that would make complete recovery impossible.

free data recovery software Disk Drill for Windows & macOS Free Download

Start by downloading and installing Disk Drill for Mac from its website.

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Disk Drill for Mac is a data recovery software application capable of recovering hundreds of file formats from formatted, corrupted, as well as healthy storage devices. Besides recovering data from formatted internal hard drives, it can also recover formatted external hard drives connected to Mac computers, USB flash drives, iOS devices, Android devices, memory cards, and more.

Open the downloaded image file and drag Disk to the Applications folder.

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Step 3: Run Disk Drill & Select the Available Drive to Scan

You should now be able to run Disk Drill just like any other Mac application. If you’re asked to provide your admin password, do so. Disk Drill won’t attempt to recover any data from the formatted hard drive until you tell it, and it won’t make any changes to your system.

The formatted hard drive should be listed among hardware disks. It should be completely empty, which is how you can recognize it even if you don’t know its name (see Generic UDISK in the screenshot above).

If the hard drive isn’t listed among hardware disks, make sure it’s connected to your Mac properly and re-launch Disk Drill.

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Click the Recover button to analyze the hard drive. Don’t worry: Disk Drill won’t copy any files from the hard drive just yet. It will only scan it and present you a list of recoverable data.

Step 4: Preview the Recoverable Drive Data

When the scan is finished, you will be able to preview the recoverable drive data and select which files you want to recover.

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We highly recommend you take advantage of the preview feature as much as possible and use it to avoid recovering files you don’t need, such as system and application files, documents and multimedia that you have backed up elsewhere, and so on.

When you encounter a file you want Disk Drill to recover, click on the small checkbox next to it to add it to the recovery queue. You can recover as many files at the same time as you want as long as the target storage device has enough free space for them.

Step 5: Recover Your Drive

Once you’ve selected all files for recovery, you can begin the recovery process by clicking on the Recover button. Notice the Choose folder… option to the left of the Recover button.

You can use this option to specify the recovery destination. You should never recover files from a formatted hard drive to the same hard drive because you could overwrite the very same files you’re trying to recover.

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Wrapping Up

Provided you use a capable and user-friendly data recovery software application like Disk Drill for Mac, you have absolutely nothing to fear when it comes to recovering a formatted hard drive on Mac. The entire recovery process can actually be summarized in just a few sentences:

To recover formatted hard drive on Mac:

  1. Download Disk Drill for Mac from its website.
    free data recovery software Disk Drill for Windows & macOS Free Download
  2. Install it just like you would any other Mac application.
  3. Launch Disk Drill and select the formatted hard drive.
  4. Click the Recover button next to it to scan it.
  5. Select which files you want Disk Drill to recover and click Recover.

That’s how easy it is to recover formatted hard drive on Mac with the help of Disk Drill.

What Is the Purpose of Formatting a Hard Drive?

Not all hard drive formats are accidental. Often, there’s a good reason to format a hard drive, including those listed below.

Removing Your Data

If you have a hard drive that’s jam-packed with useless data, formatting is usually the quickest and most painless way how to remove it, allowing you to get rid of everything with a few simple clicks. On a Mac, you can format a hard drive using the Disk Utility app. Simply select it from the list on the left and click the Erase button. You will still be able to recover data from the erased hard drive because Disk Utility doesn’t overwrite them.

Changing Your Operating System

Recent versions of macOS use Apple File System (APFS), a proprietary file system that’s not compatible with versions of macOS older than High Sierra. APFS is also not compatible with Windows or Linux, so the only way how to install a different operating system on a hard drive with a recent version of macOS is to format it and replace the file system. Most operating systems allow you to do this during installation, but some may require you to format your hard drive beforehand.  

Changing Disk Partitions

Besides changing your operating system, you may also need to format your hard drive after changing disk partitions. For example, you can shirk the main partition and create a secondary one to create two distinct logical hard drives that each use part of the actual physical hard drive. You can then use one logical hard drive for one thing and the other one for something completely different. Each logical hard drive can even have a different file system or operating system installed on it.  


David Morelo is a professional content writer in the technology niche, covering everything from consumer products to emerging technologies and their cross-industry application.
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This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.